Family – Kin – Relatives – Tribe – Folk – Fellowship- Mates – Clan
When you look up synonyms for family, these are but a few of the words you will find. And none of them have anything to with blood or biology. I am in a unique position to understand that family is anything but blood. I am an adopted child – the only one out of four children. Uniquely, I am a middle adopted child which is even more unusual. The general scenario is either people adopt thinking they can’t have children and then find they can – the adopted then being the oldest. Or they can’t have any more children and choose to adopt making the adopted the youngest. But my parent’s plans ended up with me in the middle. See – I’ve been odd since birth.
But in spite of the unique situation of how I came to be part of this family, I am just that – a member of the Haney clan. I have always been treated exactly like the rest, from chores to arguments, to rewards, and so forth. No one ever said, “You’re not our real kid/sister/ etc.” And I don’t remember ever saying, “You’re not my real family/mom/brother/sister.” In fact, most of the time I hear how much we look alike – which is pretty funny given that the rest of my family are taller, thinner, and more athletic. They look at a mountain and say, “Alright, let’s climb that.” I look at that same mountain and find a great place to sit and draw it. But we hold our heads the same, have the same facial expressions, use the same phrases when speaking, and have the same mannerisms. These are things that identify us as family.
I understand completely that a family is something more than a chance of birth. In fact, for some, birth families are the least family-like. This is why I am so grateful for the other families I belong to. I have a furry family with my husband, one that brings us joy and comfort.
I have a new work family that has embraced me as one of them, not in spite of my quirks and weirdness, but with total disregard for them (and even embracing some of the odder ones.) They are teaching me the finer points of being a part of the disability family, putting up with my fumbles and answering my (sometimes) stupid questions. They are teaching me how to be a member of this wonderful family.
I have an online family of people I have never met face to face. They are as much a family to me as any. We care for each other, look out for each other, offer support and praise for each other. And sometimes help each other understand that perhaps their blood relatives are not the family they think they are. We help others with issues of abuse, neglect, abandonment, spitefulness, and sometimes violence. We work to help everyone feel that they are important, wanted, cared for, and needed – all the things I learned from my first family. And I try my best to bring this understanding to others.
This time of year is difficult for many. While suicide is not at its peak over the holidays, it is nonetheless prevalent and likely for some. According to the CDC, every minute someone will attempt to commit suicide – and every 13 minutes someone will be successful. And here’s the kicker – disease and illness are mostly out of the average person’s ability to heal, but for people considering suicide, sometimes you and I can help. A suicidal person may not ask for help, but that doesn’t mean that help isn’t wanted. People who take their lives don’t want to die—they just want to stop hurting. You and I can help by recognizing the warning signs and taking them seriously. Often we are afraid to bring up the subject. Even writing this, I find myself using synonyms for suicide – as if just saying it will trigger the action. But talking openly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a life.
I didn’t really intend for this post to be about suicide prevention – but like many times when I am writing, the words take me somewhere I didn’t see when I started. I meant for this to be a celebration of family – to try and open minds about the importance of the relationships that make a family rather than the blood relations that we often use as a family definition. But perhaps my definition of family by default lead me to this discussion because I understand how much family cares for each other. Sometimes we sit around the table and talk about nothing. Sometimes we sit on the floor and share the most important, the most wonderful, the most painful moments of our lives. A family listens. When we listen we can share in the joy, laugh at the crazy, revel in the beauty, cry over the pain, hurt in empathy, rage at the unfair, scream at the wrongs, and heal with each other. We reach out, stumble, trip, fall, catch, hold, lift and support. My family taught me this – teaches me this every day.
These last couple of years have been very hard. They have brought some difficult times, but they have also brought joy, happiness, redemption, and growth. I have tested the strength of my family bonds. I have missed birthdays, holidays, and celebrations – sometimes because I just couldn’t see beyond my own four walls. I have caused hurt and pain. But in spite of my failings, my human fallibility, my family is still there, waiting for me to get it together and keeping an eye on me until then. You have a greater family than you may know. Look around and rethink what family means to you.
Family: a group of people, connected by interest, support, kindness, and care. A bond that will often cause you to put other’s needs above your own. A well that offers hope and healing, filled by others in your tribe. Not defined by blood and biology.
To all my family members – we will find hope, happiness, and joy in 2017 – together.
If you are worried that you or someone you know may be at risk for suicide, please call your local authorities (911). The hotlines below are 24 hours and are confidential.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
For hearing and speech impaired with TTY equipment: 1.800.799.4TTY (779-4889)
National Child Abuse Hotline
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)
The Trevor Project
Veterans Crisis Line
1.800.273.TALK (273-8255) PRESS 1
Crisis Text Line
TEXT “TWLOHA” TO 741-741